Irena Boskovic: A Multi-Method Approach to the Detection of Fabricated Symptoms

On Tuesday 29 January 2019, Irena Boskovic (Clinical Psychological Science, Forensic Psychology section) will be defending her thesis “A Multi-Method Approach to the Detection of Fabricated Symptoms” in the Auditorium at Minderbroedersberg 4-6.

After altering childhood plans from becoming a military pilot to becoming a psychologist, Irena started her academic career in Novi Sad in her home country of Serbia. There she first did a bachelor in psychology and then a two-year master in clinical psychology. Alongside her studies she did training in psycho-therapy and started volunteer work as a psychological councillor in a war trauma centre. There she spent four years learning how to help people suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PSTD).

In 2015 she noticed a call for a double doctorate programme that involved writing a research proposal about malingered PTSD. Malingering is when people intentionally fabricate symptoms in order to receive different forms of external benefits. “For me as a clinician, at first, it sounded outrageous. The thought that maybe we should not trust our clients, that’s not how I was trained.” But this thought was exactly why Irena found it fascinating.

Thom Frijns

The double doctorate programme, the House of Legal Psychology, was a collaboration between Maastricht University and the University of Portsmouth (UK). Most of the time she worked in Maastricht but for six months she worked and did her research in Portsmouth. She also has to defend her thesis twice “So this is not going to be my first defence”. Last year she was awarded her PhD at the University of Portsmouth, and next Tuesday she’ll be defending her work in Maastricht.

For her PhD she expanded the research question from PTSD to include more methods for the detection of fabricated physical (headaches, pain) and psychological (for example: test anxiety, trauma-like experiences) symptoms. For three years she performed eight studies in which different indications of fabricated symptoms were examined, such as: the quality of symptom statements, response pattern on reaction time tasks, and on the self-report questionnaires. Each method was closely assessed and the findings support a multi-method approach to the detection of fabricated symptom.

“I’m looking forward to this defence because it comes with more celebration, family and friends. I was less nervous then with the first one, until my mock-defence. There I learned how cruel my colleagues can be when you ask them to be critical (laughing). But I enjoy being challenged and being asked about my research. It can give you new insights and new ideas for future research. And my colleagues are far more brilliant people than I am.”

Besides being a researcher, Irena has already started also as a teacher here at FPN. “I really look forward to my classes, during my PhD I didn’t have a lot of time for teaching. Talking to students about the field is very exciting because their questions are often the most difficult to answer. I also really hope to see them at my defence!”

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